A few thoughts on the modern world’s fear and loathing of single mothers:
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a woman who we’ll call Becky. She was in her early thirties. She and her six children (aged seven and under) were living in a one-bedroom flat in a temporary accommodation hostel in South East London. The whole family (the family included an 18-month-old baby) slept in that one bedroom. You can see the beds and bunks in the photos below. The kitchen was tiny. There was just enough space for two adults to fit into it if neither of them moved around very much. Cockroaches rattled across the floor. Becky had plugged holes in the walls with foam to stop the cockroaches from getting into the flat and into the baby’s cot:
Apparently, Becky’s local council had told her the family might have to stay in the one-bedroom hostel flat for months. Big houses for large families were in short supply. Becky had 11 children altogether, but the eldest ones had been removed from her care and adopted into other families (Becky said that the council adopted out her white children. The six children she still had living with her were mixed race). One of her older sons lived with her sister. So, Becky was living in this one-bedroom hostel flat with her six youngest children. Her school-aged kids had to sit on the bunk-beds to do their homework while the littler ones raced around the room. This overcrowding was yielding exactly the results that you’d expect. Becky showed me a health visitor’s letter which said that her kids were falling badly behind in their milestones, at least in part because of their living conditions. That in itself is reason enough to find and finance decent accommodation for this family. Every kid deserves a chance.
Anyway. I’ve thought a lot about Becky and her kids in the couple of weeks since I saw them. Mainly, I’ve thought about the shit that hits the fan whenever somebody writes about mothers who ask for state support. We all know how this one goes in our punitive age (read a few of the comments under this story if you don’t). Why, people will ask, did Becky have these children if she couldn’t afford to look after them? Where are the fathers? Why should this woman and her children be found a decent home? Why should taxpayers pick up the tab?
And on it goes. For myself, I have to say that I find this sort of dismissal – this slamming of doors, particularly in children’s faces – harder to handle as time goes on. It solves nothing and helps nobody. You find in it one of our era’s most poisonous political ideas: that you can sort a situation out simply by insisting it should never have come to pass. As it happens, there are – as there usually are – many reasons for complex situations: ill health, mental health, domestic violence, manipulation and a host of other forces that are beyond my perception and grasp. I don’t need to know the details and neither do you. Knowing the details doesn’t change the facts. Either everyone is entitled to basics like housing, or nobody is. That is social security. All that matters is the need at the hour of need.